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Famous Ballroom Bans Disco After Utah Tourist Slain

September 6, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ At 71, Roseland still calls itself ″the home of refined dancing.″ But since disco and hip-hop cut in on the foxtrot and the cha-cha, trouble has also resided at the nation’s most famous ballroom.

The mirrored lobby, which displays the shoes of the greats who danced there and the names of spouses who met there, also has a metal detector. And instead of taxi dancers, the ballroom now employs a battalion of bouncers and guards.

There have been two murders at Roseland in the past six years, 16 felonies in or around it this year and increasingly angry complaints from neighborhood residents about late-night noise and drug use outside the club.

This week, opponents found a focus.

A tourist from Utah was stabbed to death when a gang of youths allegedly robbed his father and used the money for admission to the ballroom. Later in the evening, in an unrelated incident, a man was shot and wounded on the dance floor.

On Wednesday, the club announced it would end disco programs by the end of the month.

″Ballroom dancing is Roseland’s heart and soul,″ said manager Hilary Feshbach, who promised to find alternatives to disco to keep the ballroom solvent.

In the early evenings, Roseland is much the same as ever. Crowds of mostly elderly men and women dance the foxtrot, the cha-cha and other ballroom favorites. Their numbers have steadily declined and about 10 years ago Roseland started a disco that opened at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays after ballroom dancing ended.

The late show has drawn roughly twice as many dancers as the ballroom music, but it also attracted a younger, more intoxicated and more violent crowd.

Police Inspector Lowell Stahl calls the change after midnight ″like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.″

The scene outside is even more troublesome.

″It’s a nightmare,″ says Allan Abramowitz, who lives with his wife and young son in an apartment building nearby. ″I invite you to stay in my apartment any Friday or Saturday night between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. You’d hear the car boom boxes. I live on the 10th floor and my windows shake from the bass.″

It’s a different kind of shaking than the kind for which Roseland is famous.

The ballroom’s ″Hall of Fame″ displays shoes worn by Betty Grable, George Raft, Gregory Hines and Bill ″Bojangles″ Robinson. A plaque bears the names of more than 725 couples who met and married there.

Roseland opened in a former carriage factory in 1919 and later moved into a skating rink. Legend has it the owner, Louis Brecker, needed a place to take his fiancee dancing that stayed open longer than his native Philadelphia permitted.

Brecker’s Roseland was lively but orderly. House taxi dancers partnered patrons for 10 cents a dance, but they couldn’t accept gifts from them. Jitterbuggers were discouraged from jittering too frenetically. The twist was banned altogether.

But styles of music and dance continued to change. Eventually, Roseland gave in to disco in an attempt to cover vast overhead.

″We just couldn’t fight it,″ said Nancy Brecker Leeds, the founder’s daughter who sold the place in 1981. ″It was all around.″

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